Boettcher claims first America’s Uphill crown |

Boettcher claims first America’s Uphill crown

Tim Mutrie

The first three spandex-clad finishers came in pretty much as expected.

After dropping his familiar rivals on the flats above Spar Gulch, Bernie Boettcher, 41, a venerated mountain runner from Silt, was the first man to summit Aspen Mountain Saturday morning, claiming his first Ute Mountaineer America’s Uphill title in a speedy 43 minutes, 34.5 seconds.

Some two and a half minutes later, Glenwood Springs runner Charlie Wertheim, 41, completed the 3,267-vertical-foot climb as runner-up, his fourth consecutive second-place finish in the 17th annual ski and snowshoe race. And 40 seconds behind Wertheim, in 46:49, was Vail endurance specialist Mike Kloser, 44, the 2003 America’s Uphill champion and Elk Mountains Grand Traverse champion.

“Pretty much what I expected, with Bernie, Charlie and me dicing it out,” Kloser said. “Then …”

Up the hill came the unexpected, an unfamiliar face to the elite ranks of Boettcher, Wertheim and Kloser. It was 16-year-old Aspen High School junior Simi Hamilton.

One week removed from his quadruple gold-medal performance at the J-1 nordic Junior Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., Hamilton proved himself an adversary worthy of the greater valley’s heavyweights, skating across the finish line in fourth place (47:31.9).

Stunned by the youngster’s performance, Boettcher said: “I didn’t know he was that young. Wow. If he’s that far up there at that age, he’s just gonna do nothing but get faster.”

Said Wertheim: “Whew. I guess he’s the future.”

Said Kloser: “He wasn’t behind me the whole time. He was dicing it out with me for a while. But I didn’t even know who he was until later.

“This kid’s gonna be one force to reckon with for many years to come.”

In the women’s race, 2002 champion and reigning course record-holder Anita Ortiz of Eagle, a member of Team Beaver Creek like Boettcher and Kloser, won handily in 50:02, 11th place overall.

Accomplished nordic skier Natalie Ward of Aspen was second (56:02.8) followed by Aspen runner Lisa Gonzales-Gile (57:59.9).

Boettcher, an artist who has recently entered the ranks of “professional runner” after securing some sponsors, pulled away from Wertheim ” with both men racing in snowshoes ” near the base of the Ajax Express quad.

“I was afraid to look back and I couldn’t hear ’em, but I thought they were there,” he said. “When I finally looked back, a ways later, I was surprised they weren’t that close. But I kept pushing because I was feeling good.

“I was really surprised with my time, and the margin. I just had a really good race.”

In the two Saturdays prior to the America’s Uphill, Boettcher took third place in the 2004 Nike ACG U.S. National Snowshoe Championships in Squaw Valley, Calif., then the North American Snowshoe Championships in Beaver Creek.

Kicked off his New Jersey high school cross-country team for mooning some girls, Boettcher didn’t run again until age 36.

In 2003, he competed in a total of 54 races, winning 27 of them outright, winning the master’s division 47 times and finishing top-two in master’s 52 times. (Also in 2003, Boettcher took third overall in the Pikes Peak ascent race on one day, and third in the Pikes Peak marathon the very next day.)

“I’m actually running pretty darn good,” he said. “I’m real happy with training. I feel like after doing this for several years, and keeping fairly copious notes on it, I’ve been able to narrow down what works and what doesn’t.”

Though a little frustrated with his second-place status, Wertheim said Boettcher ran a “fabulous race ” the fastest time in four or five years.”

“It was funny because I didn’t even know Mike [Kloser] was in the race until halfway up Spar Gulch; I thought he didn’t make it. Then he comes walking past like he always does, ‘Hey, Charlie.'”

“I managed to keep him behind me, though, and my time was pretty close to my best time, so I guess I can’t complain.”

Kloser said the race was lost to Boettcher by the time the leaders cleared the top of Spar.

“Bernie was long gone, so I tried to minimize my losses. Then the kid, Simi, passed me up. I got around him, though, and I tried to put a little time on him so I didn’t have to contend with that toward the finish.”

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